30 June 2009

Places You've Never Heard Of: The Catacombs of Paris

By Jennifer Linforth

There is nothing quite like shoving your heroine in a catacomb. I love my heroine, my editor loves my heroine, readers tell me they love my heroine...

But sometimes you have to wonder what is in a writer's head. There is a method to my madness just as there are certain places on this earth that simply cannot be described. One is the Catacombs of Paris--the tunnels beneath the city that house endless twists, turns--and souls.

Created at the end of the 18th century when the Cemetery of the Innocent was discovered to be the source of disease, and multiple complaints were filed against it, the Council of State ordered the removal of the deceased. But where the blazes do you put the bones? The removal and creation of the catacombs began on April 7, 1786 and was continued until 1788. It happened at night with great ceremony. Priests sang, while carts bogged down with bones draped in black cloth made their way to the highways underground.

Creepy dark places are magnets for the bizarre. In 1787, Lord of d' Artois, (Charles X), would bring his court ladies down there for a rip-roaring good time (there is fiction fodder for you). According to the museum in Paris such figures as Madame de Polignac and Madame de Guiche visited and in 1814, Francis 1st, emperor of Austria, had to see the creepy stuff for himself. In 1860, Napoleon III went down there with his son—male bonding you know.

Visitors to Paris can tour the Catacombs and the intricate bone walls. The remains of around six million souls reside down there. They are laid out in macabre patterns and piles...a network of graffiti on the walls helps to guide folks on their 'walks.' So why the bloody hell would I want to shove my heroine in a place like this? I reference these catacombs in MADRIGAL--they play a rather significant role--and then use them in book two. (Different city...seems creepy places are all over Europe.) I just can't get past the allure of them. If you were to hide from the authorities, wouldn't that be a perfect spot? Miles of pitch-black, water-filled tunnels, mapped only to a degree...the perfect place to wait out a winter if you ask me. Cold--but at least you would have company.

Eyeless company but company nonetheless